“We Will Serve the Lord”
14 “Now, therefore, [g]fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and [h]truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the [i]River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
16 The people answered and said, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; 17 for the Lord our God is He who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt, from the house of [j]bondage, and who did these great signs in our sight and preserved us through all the way in which we went and among all the peoples through whose midst we passed. 18 The Lord drove out from before us all the peoples, even the Amorites who lived in the land. We also will serve the Lord, for He is our God.”
19 Then Joshua said to the people, “You will not be able to serve the Lord, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgression or your sins. 20 If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you after He has done good to you.” 21 The people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the Lord.” 22 Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen for yourselves the Lord, to serve Him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” 23 “Now therefore, put away the foreign gods which are in your midst, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” 24 The people said to Joshua, “We will serve the Lord our God and we will [k]obey His voice.” 25 So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made for them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem. 26 And Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God; and he took a large stone and set it up there under the oak that was by the sanctuary of the Lord. 27 Joshua said to all the people, “Behold, this stone shall be for a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the Lord which He spoke [l]to us; thus it shall be for a witness against you, so that you do not deny your God.” 28 Then Joshua dismissed the people, each to his inheritance.
Throughout the Bible, we are reminded that God is love, and that He desires our love in return. But corollary to that theme is a necessary “evil”: free will. The ability to choose is essential to any story about love. Watch a romantic movie, and it will inevitably contrast one with a desire for control, and another who freely gives (and receives) love.
But though love does not control, it involves a desire for obedience. It’s hard to convince anyone you love your mom or dad if you constantly disobey them. Granted, you will disobey them at some point, but living in a state of rebellion is a far cry from an occasional act of disobedience.
At any rate, free will enables us to disobey, a fact which is necessary by the relinquishing of control native to love. The people of Israel were free to choose another “god”. And we are free to reject God, to hate our enemies, to lust after our neighbor’s wife, or worse. Life will suck, and eternity will be worse, but we are given the choice to make. Trust God, love Him, obey Him, choose to follow His way, or… Go our own way, reject God, and die (sooner or later). As the serpent so aptly noted, “you won’t really die…” But the wages of sin (disobedience) is death, a death that our physical minds can’t really grasp or comprehend.
The children of Israel, at least at this point, knew better than to reject God. It’s like a choice between cake and poop, is it really a choice? We only fall for the latter because Satan throws some frosting on it, but at the end, it’s still a twisted, empty promise of being “like God.” But if we really want to be like God, the only choice is to follow Him, become more like Him every day, until one day… we see Him face to face.